#JoyOfLearning Articles from @EscapeAdulthood + @PernilleRipp + @focus2achieve

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three articles about creating more joyful learning (and joy in reading) for kids. The first is about giving kids time to "wonder aimlessly) to figure out what they most enjoy. The second is about giving kids reading choice, and not imposing rules on them that we would not follow ourselves. The third is about how one teacher is working to remake homework policies to better serve the needs of his students. 

PenguinsCantFlyOn the value of giving kids time to "Wonder Aimlessly" + discover their own interests http://ow.ly/R0Lt301sbpn  @escapeadulthood #Play

Jason Kotecki: "This ability to “wonder aimlessly” is a valuable thing. It is the heart and soul of tinkering and the key to a happy, fulfilling life...

The current system in America is anything but aimless. From the earliest ages, the goal is to get kids reading as quickly as possible, even if that means limiting the amount of time they have for “aimless” free play, which interestingly enough,science has confirmed is crucial to the development of resiliency and conflict resolution, while helping them discover their own areas of interest and engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue."

Me: I agree with Jason and his wife Kim that kids need time to pursue "aimless" activities, so that they can recharge, figure out their passions, learn resilience, and a host of other benefits. I find in practice as the parent of a six-year-old that this is easier said than done. But I appreciate posts like that one that remind me of why I need to keep trying... 

PassionateLearnersSo much truth! The #Reading Rules that we impose upon kids that We Would Never Follow as Adult Readers http://ow.ly/OksJ301xnEE  @pernilleripp

Pernille Ripp: "Choice is the cornerstone of our own literacy life, yet it is one of the first things we tend to remove for children, especially fragile or developing readers...

And while we can say that reading logs foster more reading because it is a check up system, it also kills reading for many.  If you want to see if the kids are reading, have them read in class and pay attention to what they are reading.  Allow students to track in a way that is meaningful to them; Goodreads, notebook page, poster, pictures of books on their phone, or even through conversations.  There is no one system that fits all and if a system we have in place is even killing the love of reading for one child, then we need to rethink it."

Me: In this post, Pernille Ripp hits on a variety of restrictions that we impose on kids' reading that risk killing their enjoyment of reading, like forcing "reflection" in the form of book reports about every book, and removing intrinsic motivation via reward programs. I just want to find a way to make every elementary school teacher in the country read this post, and come to understand these points. 

HomeworkMythHomework Doesn't Work. Now What? One teacher's plan to put his students' needs 1st http://ow.ly/j9DX301C6e7  @focus2achieve @BAMRadioNetwork

Oskar Cymerman: "A lot of research says that any amount of homework is largely ineffective. Some academics see it as something that can still be used if adjusted. But how do we fix homework? And, can we fix homework? I do not know, but I know that as educators we need to do what serves our students best. It is not always clearly laid out what is best. Should we still give some homework or abandon it completely? If we give homework, how can we ensure that we do not give too much, as we rarely know how much is assigned in other classes? How do we still teach what we are mandated to teach when we know that assignment completion at home rarely leads to meaningful learning?

Here’s what I decided, so try it at your own risk if you wish." A seven-step "oath to students" follows. 

Me: I'm still not sure as a parent how I'm going to handle homework expectations when my daughter starts first grade next year. But I do so appreciate teachers like Oskar Cymerman who are working to figure out ways to remake and minimize homework to better meet the needs of students and families.

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: #PictureBooks, #Reading Choice, #Audiobooks + More

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include: #BookLists, Disney World, diverse books, #GrowthMindset, #SummerReading, Book Awards, leveled readers, libraries, reading aloud, reading choice, schools, teaching, parenting. 

Awards + Book Lists

TheStorytellerNewbery/Caldecott 2017: The Summer Prediction Edition — @fuseeight  http://ow.ly/iSGV301scXy  #kidlit #PictureBooks

Like Jennifer Wharton, I'm skeptical about books on specific #parenting issues. But sometimes you need them. A list: http://ow.ly/vjOH301scs0 

#EasyReaders w/ #diverse characters: Expanding our #library collection (ages 5-8) http://ow.ly/bAta301zL34  @MaryAnnScheuer #BookList

Read Around Town: Books about Laundry + the Laundromat http://ow.ly/mR9W301nzdc  @mrskatiefitz #kidlit

Read Around Town: Books that Focus  on the Bus + Bus Drivers http://ow.ly/Cb8l301zKD2  @mrskatiefitz #BookList

A Truly Eclectic #PictureBook Round-Up from @RandomlyReading   http://ow.ly/zDuh301xjXP  @MollyIdle @gBrianKaras @RyanT_Higgins + more

Goofy Pets, Daring Detectives, and a Drama Queen| Chapter Books Series Update | http://ow.ly/eRwM301uJgm  @abbylibrarian @sljournal #kidlit

Ten More Great School Age Readalouds for K-4th http://ow.ly/IFwh301sddh  @abbylibrarian #BookList #kidlit

Level Up: New @literacious series Pairing Video Games w/ Children’s Books| This week: Sports Games http://ow.ly/Rded301zJS7  #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

20 Books Featuring #Diverse Characters to Inspire Connection and Empathy  http://ow.ly/uf8Q301syAe  @Kschwart @MindShiftKQED

On the importance of praising girls for hard work + intelligence, not appearance http://ow.ly/ZUeT301sanG  @Jonharper70bd @BAMRadioNetwork

Toy Companies Aim to Make Toys More Gender-Neutral  @AnneMarieChaker @WSJ https://t.co/qmSsE8ZcoM

 Literature that Deals w/ Human #Diversity: Helping to overcome fear of the 'other' (age, race, etc) http://ow.ly/f7B1301xl2I  @TrevorHCairney

Growing Bookworms

Read It Wrong: One Tip to Make #ReadingAloud Even More Fun from @everead  #GrowingBookworms http://ow.ly/arlH301oPzG 

On the dangers of using leveled books to constrain a child's reading @pernilleripp  http://ow.ly/Ac9b301nyuM  Levels can damage reading life

6 Awesome Tips for Reading Chapter Books with Preschoolers (inc. abandon it if it's not working) from @growingbbb https://t.co/ach80wSJQc

On choice: What will my kids read this summer? I'm pretending not to care @Danny_Heitman  http://ow.ly/gfiw301nxys  @csmonitor via @tashrow

Adventures in #Literacy Land: Six #SummerReading Tips to keep kids #reading http://ow.ly/Nc6Y301utAJ 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

I agree with @literacious that marketing #Audiobooks at the Gym is a smart move on the part of @randomhouse http://ow.ly/4NlW301xpnB 

#PictureBook Bios I’d Like to See (Based Entirely on Hark, A Vagrant Comics) — @fuseeight http://ow.ly/AwC4301zMY0  #kidlit

Schools and Libraries

DisneyParadeHow to give any educational organization a @WaltDisneyWorld feel in 3 steps http://ow.ly/ekKw301xlgt  @TonySinanis #EdChat

A Small Fix in #Mindset Can Keep Students in School http://ow.ly/VPh1301oPHk  @AlisonGopnik @WSJ #GrowthMindset #teaching

6 Reasons to Visit the #Library This Summer | @denabooks  http://ow.ly/nHUW301nxTS  @ReadBrightly via @tashrow #SummerReading

Why "NO is an appropriate response (for preschoolers) to a choice...just as much as YES" http://ow.ly/MrvI301xjuH  @sxwiley #teaching

What’s in those pre-packaged leveled book boxes? We must seek quality classroom titles | Nicole Hewes @HornBook  http://ow.ly/xfo1301zLvX 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Can I Tell You a Secret? by Anna Kang & Christopher Weyant

Book: Can I Tell You a Secret?
Author: Anna Kang
Illustrator: Christopher Weyant
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

CanITellYouASecretMonty the frog has an embarrassing secret, one that he wants to share with the reader in Can I Tell You a Secret? Despite the fact that he's, well, a frog, Monty is afraid of the water. He's spent his childhood forging doctor's notes, ducking raindrops, and avoiding the water in any way he can. He seeks the young reader's advice, and reluctantly, with some false starts, agrees to share his terrible secret with his parents. Who, of course, know already. Monty takes his new friend the reader along as he sets out to learn to swim.   

I loved Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant's earlier collaboration: You Are Not Small, which won the 2015 Geisel Award. Like that one, Can I Tell You a Secret? is a book that simply begs to be read aloud. Like this:

"I have a secret.

Can you keep a secret?
You sure?
Because I don't want anyone else to know.

Do you promise

I challenge any reader not to read that "promise" like a scared four-year-old. 

Weyant's deceptively simple illustrations are perfect, too. We go in for a close-up of Monty's face when he's talking intently to the reader. Any kid who has ever been scared of anything will relate to Monty's anxious expression, and to the sheepish grin he uses when he chicken's out on his confession. His dejected appearance when he confesses (in a tiny font that calls for a tiny read-aloud voice) "I'm afraid of the water" will make any reader ache for him. Just as his simple joy at the end of the book will leave all readers happy.

Can I Tell You a Secret is a delightful picture book, perfect for the three to six-year-old set. It is certainly one that libraries and preschools will want to stock. It should have near-universal appeal for younger kids and their parents. It has plenty of repetition, and would also work as an early reader for slightly older kids. Highly recommended all around!

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 31, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

My Plan for My Daughter's "Summer Learning"

My daughter finished Kindergarten last week. My goal has been to keep her summer as unstructured as possible. I want her to have downtime after her first year of elementary school. I want her to have the mental space to develop and nurture her own interests. I want her to have fun. Which is not to say that she won't be learning. She's six years old. She is a little sponge, soaking up opportunities for learning every day. Here are the things that I plan to do that I think will support my daughter's learning process without taking away her autonomy or joy of learning:

KnuffleBunny1. Keep piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed. Rotate these every couple of days to give her choice. Keep the simple reading log that we've been using on the kitchen table, so that we can jot down books as we read them. Read to her while she eats breakfast, before bed, and during whatever other times she requests it throughout the day. Visit the library as needed to keep the piles of books fresh. We are still mostly reading these books to her, but whenever she decides that she wants to read a picture book or early reader aloud, we're happy to listen and help out. 

1stGradeWorkbook2. Keep a Grade 1 workbook on the kitchen table or the playroom desk, in case she wants to use it. She especially likes the Scholastic workbooks that I get from Costco. She has already asked me to get the Grade 2 workbook, for when she finishes. I am not requiring her to do the workbook at any time, and certainly not to finish it. But I find that if it is her own idea, and she has some downtime, she's happy to use the workbook to practice her writing and math. Last night she was practicing sentences while my husband and I were finishing dinner. I loved workbooks as a kid, and seeing her industrious work does make me smile.

3. Keep her afternoons as open as possible (vs. having structured activities). My daughter ended up deciding at the last minute to sign up for swim team. There is practice every morning, though she is only required to go three times a week. These practices do get her outside exercising and spending time with her friends. They've been staying to play together at the pool for longer than the 45 minute practice time, so I figure this is a reasonable compromise. She also has two 50-minute karate classes a week, but as previously discussed, the karate classes bring her great joy. She's also going to do one week of "spy camp" because I couldn't resist. But otherwise, her schedule during the week is clear.  

4. Accept playdates when they are offered, and offer them in return. As I write this, my daughter is at a friend's house picking fruit from the family's garden. Yesterday she and a couple of friends arranged among themselves a playdate after swim practice. I believe there was dancing involved, but I'm not sure. We don't live in neighborhood where she can just spontaneously play with kids who live nearby, but this felt like the next best thing. We are very fortunate to have friends we can do this with, particularly given that my daughter is an only child.  

ThingsToMake5. Make sure we have plenty of construction paper, colored pencils, markers, and scotch tape. Costco is pretty helpful here, too. Save empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, as well as shoeboxes. I also bought her something called The Big Book of Things to Make as an end-of-school present. While I'm philosophically in favor of her designing her own projects, I figured that a flipping through some ideas couldn't hurt. I also provide blank journals for writing stories.

6. Let her spend limited amounts of time doing hour of code tutorials (with a parent) and dabbling in Minecraft on her Kindle Fire. I do find that screen time can be addictive for my daughter, and I try to keep it quite limited. But I think it's ok in moderation, particularly if she is focused on things that are creative in some way. I also need some time in which she is occupied so that I can exercise, particularly on weekends, when our childcare provider is not with us. I agreed to download Minecraft (pocket edition) because I figured it would be better to have her building things than watching shows. 

That's it. Books and craft supplies. Kids to play with. Relatively constructive apps for her screen time. But most of all TIME. I realize that this might not be the right set of summer attributes for all kids. But for my daughter, I think this plan will do the trick. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.  



Chicken in Space: Adam Lehrhaupt and Shahar Kober

Book: Chicken in Space
Author: Adam Lehrhaupt
Illustrator: Shahar Kober
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Chicken in Space is a new picture book about a chicken who is not like the other chickens. Zoey dreams of bigger things, and makes plans accordingly. Her specific dream in this story (one senses that there could be more) is to ravel to outer space. She has a loyal sidekick, a pie-obsessed pig named Sam, and she tries to enlist other animals to accompany she and Sam on their quest. But in the end, Zoey and Sam venture alone into the skies for a great adventure. 

The personalities of the animals come through clearly from Adam Lehrhaupt's dialog-heavy text, particularly for Zoey and Sam. Like this (0ver 3 pages):

"Clara," said Zoey, "come to space with us."

"You don't have a ship," said Clara. "You can't go to space without a ship."

"Not a problem!" said Zoey. "An opportunity!"

"Zoey always finds a way," said Sam.

"Look, Sam! I found a ship!" said Zoey.

"Of course you did," said Sam.  

Of course Shahar Kober's illustrations help to bring the characters to life, too. Zoey is priceless, with her aviator's hat. Sam wears a cute little hat, too, while an apparently timid mouse friend has round wire-rimmed glasses. Later page spreads use tilting perspectives and large colorful fonts to convey particularly dramatic moments. 

Chicken in Space celebrates the power of imagination and the importance of friendship, both in a humorous, kid-friendly way. There is just the right amount of goofiness (and balloons) to keep things fun. Kids will gobble it up, I think, and hope for Zoey and Sam to have other adventures. 

Publisher: HarperCollins (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 17, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Anticipating a Potential Sequel

LiteracyMilestoneAMy daughter has been aware for some time that books can have sequels. I'll often point this out. As in: "Hey, I heard that there's a sequel to Louise Loves Art coming out later this year. Isn't that cool?" But the other day was the first time that I'm aware of that she finished a book and anticipated that there should be a sequel forthcoming. 

We were reading Frankie Stein by Lola M. Schaefer and Kevan Atteberry, about a little boy who baffles his scary monster parents (Mr. and Mrs. Frank N. Stein) by turning out to be completely human-looking and rather cute. After the parents spend most of the book trying to make Frankie look and act more like them, Frankie ends up deciding to be his own cute=scary-to-monsters self. The book ends with the birth of Frankie's even cuter baby sister. As we closed the book, my daughter said "I can't WAIT for the sequel."

I gently pointed out that I didn't think that there was going to be a sequel to this title. [Though later research proved me wrong about this.] Her response was: "But there was a baby born at the end." I thought it marked progress in her development as a reader that she could recognize a situation that seemed likely to require a sequel. There are babies born at the end of Maple by Lori Nichols and One Special Day by Lola M. Schaefer and Jessica Meserve, and both of those books have sequels. So why not Frankie Stein? 

It turns out that the sequel, which actually was published several years ago, appears to be more about Frankie than about his sister, but I haven't read it yet. I did order it, though, to show my daughter that she was correct in her instincts. 

Katherine Sokolowski wrote recently on her blog about how her son is eagerly waiting for a third book in a favorite series that won't even be published until next summer. She said: "Thanks, Phil (Bildner), for making my kid love a book so much he wants to spend a summer day reading it - a year from now." Here I'll express my thanks to Lola M. Schaefer, and to the many other authors who I am sure will follow, who make my daughter say: "I can't WAIT for the sequel."

I think that eagerly awaiting books that haven't been published yet (or that we don't know have been published yet, anyway) is the hallmark of a true reader. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 17: #48HBC, #SummerReading, Censorship + more

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #48HBC, #SummerReading, book lists, censorship, growing bookworms, kidlitosphere, libraries, Lois Duncan, movies, parenting, play, reading enjoyment, schools, STEM, teaching, and writing. Wishing you all plenty of summer reading, with books of your own choosing. 

Book Lists

Middle Grade adventures across the genres (gadgets + villains, #SF, + more) from Jennifer Wharton  #kidlit #BookList http://ow.ly/lhHu301b95Q 

18+ Books and Series For Kids Who Like the Warriors Series http://ow.ly/4nCY301dRM3  #BookList from @momandkiddo

Favorite Children’s Books About Summer in lots of great categories from @rebeccazdunn   #kidlit #SummerReading http://ow.ly/tGKb301kJMp 

Summer Reading 2016 for 5th & 6th graders: #FamiliesRead http://ow.ly/WVpM301dR3D  by @MaryAnnScheuer #BookList #kidlit

Out Now: #YA Titles Great for Middle Schoolers http://ow.ly/AdLX301izqZ  @libraryvoice @sljournal #kidlit

Diversity + Gender

Why Hollywood Doesn't Make More Movies for Girls, Like Matilda + The Parent Trap  http://ow.ly/vSQL301gvDa  @TheAtlantic via @PWKidsBookshelf 

Events + Programs

Chicago libraries aim to give away 1 million children's books this summer to beat #SummerSlide http://ow.ly/ExO8301ij1m  @chicagotribune

$13 Million in #SchoolLibrary Grants and Counting from @laurawbush Foundation http://ow.ly/dzVo301ljo6  @sljournal

Growing Bookworms

Books Every Teacher, Homeschooler, and Parent Should Read to help w/ #RaisingReaders http://ow.ly/WrxW301dRVo  @growingbbb

How One School Engaged Readers by Hosting "Flashlight Fridays" http://ow.ly/ZU16301dSp8  #RaisingReaders

6 Easy Ways to Get Kids Outside and #Reading This Summer http://ow.ly/kxSD301id8A  @momandkiddo @ReadBrightly #RaisingReaders

In Orlando's wake: "modeling love of reading + need for reading makes a huge difference" http://ow.ly/D5MI301ik5x  @RitaWirtz @BAMRadioNetwork


48hbc_newPut the next 48 Hour Book Challenge on your calendar for June 9-11, 2017! http://ow.ly/Zhgs301dRpf  @MsYingling is making it happen #48HBC

Lots of #kidlit tidbits in Morning Notes: Sit in the Dark and Eat Edition — @100scopenotes  http://ow.ly/og9Q301kKcQ 

More #kidlit tidbits here: Fusenews: Trotsky, Harriet the Spy, A.A. Milne and More — @FuseEight  http://ow.ly/fYsm301ljyo 

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

I was sad to hear about the death of Lois Duncan, one of my teen favorite authors. Here's @RogerReads   http://ow.ly/gtEC301ljVJ  @HornBook

Thoughts on authors for adults who, when asked, disassociate from having read books published for kids http://ow.ly/5jy2301fTK6  @FuseEight

How to Make #Writing an Important Part of Your Child’s Life w/ diaries, blogs + more http://ow.ly/B5RB301dQVI  by @mrdad


Not really surprising: Kids Feel Unimportant to Cell Phone-Distracted Parents, says new study | @parenting http://ow.ly/2EQ9301e3ma 

After 16 Years, Teacher Is Fed Up With Kids’ Attitudes. His Rant On Facebook Is Going VIRAL! http://ow.ly/GHCp301b9mZ  @shareably @drdouggreen


Kids' #Nonfiction Books for Exploring The Great Outdoors http://ow.ly/KJqR301dSAg  A @mrskatiefitz #BookList for #play + #exercise + #nature

#Play Counts: Confessions + Learnings of a Play-based Teacher by @DenitaDinger  http://ow.ly/Cl1w301dTgN  via @sxwiley

Why Children Need #Play and How to Prioritize Play in a Busy World  http://ow.ly/nWEW301dSc5  @mamasmiles #parenting

Schools and Libraries

"We can't censor books because they make us uncomfortable" http://ow.ly/s7Wb3018Dwm  @katsok  on needing broad classroom #libraries

Kristin Abbott on the story of Ellen Mouchawar, who started a much-needed library at a local school http://ow.ly/Ez9y3018BP1  @nerdybookclub

Why #HighSchools Are Getting Rid of Valedictorians | A response from @DavidGeurin http://ow.ly/kRX6301lkkB  #EdChat

How Can Teachers Get Students to #Read Over the Long Summer Break? @MarvaAHinton  http://ow.ly/SE7i301lkMf  @educationweek


Not surprising to me: Teens Like Science, Not Science Class, Study Finds - @JZubrzycki http://ow.ly/t3UP301e35a  @educationweek #STEM

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

#JoyOfLearning Articles from @PaulBogush + @ErikaChristakis + @OliviaGoldhill + @NancyEBailey1

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I have three posts about different aspects of nurturing kids as creative thinkers. The first is about not imposing too many rules on kids, particularly in school, but instead, letting them be risk-takers. The second is about creating the right environment to encourage kids to read over the summer. The third is about letting kids be bored, rather than scheduling activities for them every minute. These are all things that I try to do with my daughter, with varying degrees of success. I also have a post about the dangers of rigorous required summer reading lists. 

"You have to be willing to (let kids) do dangerous things ... to change the world" http://ow.ly/tnFt3013YmF  @paulbogush @BAMRadioNetwork

Paul Bogush: "We preach to the kids "make a difference."  We tell them to "be the change they wish to see in the world." We put quotes on bulletin boards motivating them to dream "big."  There is continuous prodding to get them to be independent, be a leader, and who has not uttered or written on a wall that they should all "shoot for the stars."

All of that is followed up by a subliminal "not yet."...

Here's the thing. You have to be willing to do dangerous things if you want to change the world.  You need to be the person that everyone else thinks is a little crazy...because "people who are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.""

Me: This post resonated with me. Paul Bogush is saying: "Hey, we tell kids to be risk-takers and people who change the world, but then we expect them to be careful and compliant all day in school. This is not consistent." It's not easy to let kids do things that could be dangerous, of course, but I do feel like many (most?) parents and schools do need to ease up a bit. This post reminded me of the Free Range Kids movement. 

Beyond summer #booklist: How to cultivate a childhood #reading habitat http://ow.ly/MCJO3018CPZ  @ErikaChristakis @washingtonpost via @tashrow

Erika Christakis: "If we parents really want to foster natural reading, we can start by keeping our anxious and competitive urges in check and offering stories pitched at genuinely comfortable levels.

Adults also sometimes overlook content that really captivates a young child, opting instead for “message” stories or dazzling illustrations with thin characters and plot...

We need to cultivate more respect for those quiet unplanned moments when children stare at their cosmic ceiling. Think of unstructured time as negative space in a painting, illuminating what is otherwise hard to see. It may be more valuable in the long term than checking off another title on the summer book list.

Me: The bottom line of this piece by Erika Christakis is that a) kids need to read books that are at the right level and are about things that interest them; and b) need free time (without distraction) in which to read them. I certainly do not have a summer reading list for my six year old daughter. What I do is try to put fresh piles of picture books on the kitchen table and by her bed, keep her from being over-scheduled, and hope for the best. 

Psychologists recommend children be bored in the summer http://ow.ly/DxPj301b9ER  They need space for creativity + finding own interests

Olivia Goldhill: "There are activities and summer camps galore to fill children’s time and supply much needed childcare when kids are out of school. But psychologists and child development experts suggest that over-scheduling children during the summer is unnecessary and could ultimately keep kids from from discovering what truly interests them.

“There’s no problem with being bored,” says (Lyn) Fry. “It’s not a sin, is it? I think children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant.”"

Me: This relatively brief article makes the point that kids need time and space to figure out what really interests them. If the adults are scheduling them in activities all day long, they'll never learn to figure out what they like. Letting kids be bored makes them responsible for figuring out something to do, which is a useful skill to develop. This is something that I struggle with sometimes with my daughter, who is an only child and frequently wants an adult to play with her. I want her to learn to better entertain herself, both for my own sanity and for her own long-term happiness. Me, I can entertain myself with no one else around for days on end. That's a gift!

Rigorous summer "reading assignments are not really inducing fun. They’re making work out of reading" http://ow.ly/Zl6E301il4O  @NancyEBailey1

Nancy E. Bailey: (After looking at typical summer reading assignments given to middle schoolers) "It is not that older students who dislike reading can’t get help and encouragement to be better, happier readers. It just doesn’t seem like piling on reading assignments over the summer is going to do the trick. 

And it could be turning off the students who enjoy reading! Once reading is turned into a chore, it is hard to make it sound enjoyable...

In the spirit of summer relaxation, reading should be encouraged as something enjoyable to do.

In the end, if one doesn’t like to read, they just won’t do it. And that means there is probably a real reading problem that requires fixing, or the student never really learned the great joy that can come from reading."

Me: I think it's great if a school wants to provide a list of recommended titles that kids might want to read over the summer. Ideally, that list should consider of books that are kid-friendly and likely to be enjoyed, rather than being "educational." But I agree with Nancy Bailey that providing lists of books that kids are required to read, and giving them a required number of books to read, is more likely to turn kids off from reading than to help make them avid readers. Sigh. When the time comes, I will protect my daughter from such lists to the best of my ability. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 

Sophie's Squash Go To School: Pat Zietlow Miller and Anne Wilsdorf

Book: Sophie's Squash Go To School
Author: Pat Zietlow Miller
Illustrator: Anne Wilsdorf
Pages: 40
Age Range: 3-6

Sophie's Squash is one of my all-time favorite picture books (see my review). So naturally I was thrilled to learn that a sequel would be forthcoming. Sophie's Squash Go To School picks up not long after the end of Sophie's Squash. Readers of the first book will not be surprised to find that when she starts school for the first time, Sophie takes her two best friends, Bonnie and Baxter (the squash children of Bernice). Sophie is not keen on branching out to make any new friends, despite the best efforts of a boy named Steven Green. Eventually, however, the determined Steven is able to break through Sophie's reserve, and she learns that having common interests with someone really can be a basis for friendship.

Sophie's stubborn, loyal personality is, happily, largely unchanged from the first book. Like this:

"Sophie's parents were no help at all.

"Steven sounds adorable," said her mother. "And it's good to have friends."

"Especially human ones," added her father.

Sophie hugged Bonnie and Baxter tightly. "I have all the friends I need."

I just love how determinedly misanthropic she is. When she does start to come around to the other kids, it happens s-l-o-w-l-y. Like this:

"So when Liam showed everyone how do do his loose-tooth dance, Sophie considered joining in.

When Roshni spilled her milk, Sophie almost shared her napkin.

And when Noreen told her favorite banana joke, Sophie laughed--inside her head." 

The latter is accompanied by a picture of Sophie glancing over at the other kids, with the first smile the reader has seen yet on her grouchy face. There's no question that illustrator Anne Wilsdorf understands Sophie. 

My only minor quibble about this book was that I found Steven's persistence in becoming friends with Sophie a bit implausible. But an image of Steven sitting by himself, with only his stuffed frog, at the base of a tree while the other kids play suggests his need to find a single kindred spirit, rather than being part of the larger crowd. The other kids are clearly wilder and more extroverted. So I'm willing to give Steven a pass. 

Sophie's Squash Go To School is a long-ish picture book, but I think that the extra length is needed to give Sophie sufficient room for plausible growth. The nice thing about this book is that it works as a sequel for fans of Sophie's Squash and as a transition to kindergarten / learning to make friends book. I don't think that it quite stands alone - you really have to understand where Bonnie and Baxter came from to fully appreciate Sophie's Squash Go To School. But the two books together would make a great gift for a child starting pre-k or kindergarten. And the sequel is certainly not to be missed by Sophie's many fans. Recommended!

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: June 28, 2016
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 15: #KidLit Reviews, #StoriesForAll + #KidLitCon

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter has refocused recently, and now contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, including bookworms, mathematicians, and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update: It was a busy couple of weeks on the blog. In this issue I have three book reviews (one picture book, one early chapter book, and one middle grade) and two posts about my daughter's latest literacy milestones (sharing things on Facebook and naming favorite authors). I also have one post about why my daughter is lucky to be a girl (reading choice), and another about why parents, teachers, and librarians should consider attending KidLitCon. I also have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter, and two more with quotes from and responses to articles about to the joy of learning

AgathaParrotAndGhostReading Update: In the past two weeks I read/listened to one chapter book and three adult titles. I also abandoned a young adult title halfway through, which did not help with my reading totals. I read:

  • Kjartan Poskitt (ill. Wes Hargis): Agatha Parrot and the Odd Street School Ghost. Clarion Books. Illustrated Early Chapter Book. Completed June 10, 2016. Review to come, closer to publication. 
  • Paul Doiron: Massacre Pond (Mike Bowditch #4). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 6, 2016, on MP3. Still enjoying this series on audio.
  • Elly Griffiths: A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway #4). Mariner Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 9, 2016, on Kindle. I'm not sure whether I didn't enjoy this installment as much as I enjoyed the previous 3 because it took me a lot longer to read, or whether it took me a lot longer to read because I didn't like it as much. But the fact remains that I didn't get much reading done these past two weeks, alas. 
  • Paul Doiron: The Bone Orchard (Mike Bowditch #5). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 13, 2016, on MP3.

ThankYouBookI'm currently listening to Nowhere to Run (Joe Pickett) by C.J. Box and reading Indemnity Only by Sara Paretsky (the first V.I. Warshawski novel). I'm checking to see if the latter series, which I dipped into briefly many years ago, is a good candidate for my next audiobook series. The books my husband and I and our babysitter have been reading to our daughter in 2016 can be found here. I got her The Thank You Book by Mo Willems as a last day of school gift.

My daughter was very pleased to receive an award on the last day of school for having logged the most books read in her reading chart. The total for the school year was 1328. We've decided, even though school is over, to continue with the reading log format for the summer. I find it very helpful in tracking what other people have read to my daughter, and she really likes the sense of accomplishment that she gets from seeing the total number of books read each month. I have warned her that in future school years she likely will not read as many books, because she'll be reading longer books. But I don't think she believes me. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. Wishing you all plenty of time for summer reading.

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

Swing Sideways: Nanci Turner Steveson

Book: Swing Sideways
Author: Nanci Turner Steveson
Pages: 288
Age Range: 8-12

Swing Sideways is about an anxious girl named Annie who has been promised a summer of freedom, and her developing friendship with the much more down to earth California. Annie has been having panic attacks, and is worrisomely thin because her throat closes up when she tries to eat. Her extremely tightly wrapped, schedule-obsessed mother is trying to give her freedom, as her therapist has recommended, but is struggling. Annie's more low-key father mediates.

The family, clearly well-off, is summering at their vacation home at some unspecified lakefront community outside of New York City. California is spending the summer at her grandfather's farm nearby, and the two girls, though from very different backgrounds, become close friends. Annie is able to put aside her own insecurities to help California uncover a long-buried family mystery, and accomplish an emotionally important quest. 

Steveson delves deeply into all of the relationships in the story, keeping things moving with the mystery of California's family, as well as a parade of summer hijinks. There is a tree-climbing, sneaking out at night, and secret pet that has to be fed. As the book progresses, the reader also begins to suspect that this is going to be deep sadness by the end of the book. This, I feel I should warn prospective readers, is correct. There is humor and adventure and personal growth in Swing Sideways, but also sadness. 

Here are a couple of quotes, to give you a feel for the book: 

"At the top of the driveway stood a red mailbox. No name, only a crooked, black number seven. I resisted the urge to straighten it. Spindly lilacs lined a gravel driveway, and a jumble of what-type stuff covered what used to be a yard. Peering around the corner of the barn, I squinted and studied the place I'd coveted for so long, listening for the sound of someone lurking nearby. Silence. No sign of a human." (Page 16)

I like how Steveson slipped in the bit about how hard it was for Annie to resist straightening the crooked number. Even by page 16, one knows that her mother would probably find resisting impossible. I also like the use of the word "lurking", setting the tone of hiding and secrets, even as Annie is just looking at a farm. 

"When she came up, we laughed like we'd known each other forever. Like she'd been my best friend since nursery school and not Jessica Braverman, who ditched me last fall when the panic attacks started. Jessica had traded our friendship for contact lenses, a nose job, and her first crush, while I hid in the school bathroom every day, gasping for air. The blooming connection between California and me made my heart lift. It was a powerful feeling." (Page 55-56)

This is a trope of tween lit that always hooks me - the girl who isn't ready to grow up as quickly as her friends are, and ends up having to figure herself out and find new friends. The fact that Annie has had panic attacks and has some sort of eating disorder raises the stakes, and her declared interest in all things country personalizes it, but I think that many tweens will be able to relate. For sure the adults will. I have to say that I think Swing Sideways is a book that adult readers are going to enjoy, but I think kids will, too. Annie's struggles will particularly ring true for those kids who are over-scheduled and struggling with excessive parental expectations. 

Swing Sideways made me laugh, nod in recognition, and cringe in different places, and it brought tears to my eyes at the end. Give this one to kids who like books about summer outdoor adventures (there are chickens!), and to kids who like sad books. Annie and California (and the adults in their lives) will stay with me, I think. Recommended. 

Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books (@HarperChildrens
Publication Date: May 3, 2016
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).

Literacy Milestone: Naming Favorite Authors

LiteracyMilestoneAThe other night my daughter received a big coloring page from the library (part of her school's Open House night). It included questions that kids were supposed to answer with words and/or pictures. One of the questions was: Favorite Author. She did not hesitate, responding with two favorite authors: "Mo Willems and my friend Bob Staake." 

Mo Willems as a choice is probably self-evident. We have made our way through his Knuffle Bunny, Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and standalone titles over the years. Mo was the first author that my daughter could name and whose work she could recognize. She still gets a kick out of finding The Pigeon hiding out in other books. The other day, as I was in my office working, I listened to her read aloud to her babysitter from a whole slew of Elephant & Piggie titles. This brought me great joy. I have been putting off getting a copy of The Thank You Book because it makes me sad that it is the last Elephant & Piggie book in the series (though I do respect ending a series before it starts to fade). 

Bob Staake is another artist whose work my daughter recognized and appreciated early. Again, not so surprising, given the distinct style of his illustrations and his many fun books. We've read everything from Cars Galore to Look! A Book! We've given My Pet Book as a gift to friends who wanted a pet that they didn't have to clean up after. But our favorites among Bob Staakes's books are The Donut Chef and Mary Had A Little Lamp (written by Jack Lechner). We have been reading The Donut Chef regularly for years and it never gets old. 

The reason that Bob is "my friend Bob Staake" to my daughter is because after I happened to mention to her that I was friends with him on Facebook she went wide-eyed, and insisted that I had to write on his wall, immediately, telling him how much she enjoyed his work. After that, Bob kindly sent my daughter a signed copy of We Planted A Tree (written by Diane Muldrow). She likes to show her friends this "private book" (she means personally inscribed) from "my friend, Bob Staake". We do have other signed picture books, of course, but this one is special, because she initiated the contact. I'm pretty sure that she is now a fan for life, and I am grateful. 

I do make a point, when my daughter and I read a picture book, of telling her about other books we have read by the same author and/or illustrator. We look for commonalities, and she loves it when she notices something that I've missed. She can recognize illustrations by Peter Brown, Jon Klassen, and Alison Jay at this point. But Mo Willems and Bob Staake are her rock stars. 

Incidentally, there was also a question on the coloring page about her favorite book. She just wrote "Lots of books." Narrowing that to one just seemed ridiculous to her. 

I don't remember which picture book authors I appreciated as a child. But my favorite chapter book authors were Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Elizabeth Enright. Of course I had favorite series too (Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and the Maida series by Inez Haynes Irwin, mostly long out of print). But there's a difference, I think, between liking a particular series and following an author across books about different characters. My daughter right now appreciates the Magic Treehouse and Babymouse series. But who she'll appreciate as authors for chapter books remains to be seen. I'll be enjoying the journey in the meantime. 

© 2016 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook